Horsemen up stakes in contract bid

October 05, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

Thoroughbred horsemen voted last night to reserve the right to withhold their approval of all simulcast races at Maryland betting outlets if they cannot negotiate a written contract with Laurel/Pimlico management by the end of the year.

However, they could meet opposition from track management. When reached last night, Laurel/Pimlico president Joe De Francis said he is "anxious to work with the horsemen and listen to their legitimate concerns. But I'm not about to let them run my business. We're going to hear a lot of threats by the end of the year and if simulcasting is stopped, then we will close down completely. If people want to shut us down, then we'll gladly do it."

The horsemen give their approval every six months to a simulcast agreement with the tracks. The current contract expires Dec. 31. That is also the date when the tracks' contract with the bulk of its labor force, represented by Local 27 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, is terminated.

The horsemen have been operating without a contract for eight years, going back to when the late Frank De Francis and the Manfuso brothers operated the two tracks. Now the horsemen want three major issues specified in writing. These include their approval of the condition book, which is the roster of races that is scheduled every two weeks; approval of the stakes schedule for each meet; and approval on how purses are disbursed.

Horsemen are upset about recent purse cuts and overpayments, developments which prompted last night's action taken by the board of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.

"State law specifies how much horsemen are to be paid, but not how that money is allocated," said board member Jerry Robb. "We need this contract. And my suggestion is to tie it to simulcasting, which is the one power that we have."

The board voted, 7-5 with one abstention, to pass a motion made by Robb, which authorizes a committee to start the contract negotiations and allow the board to stop simulcasting if an agreement is not reached.

Management recently introduced purse cuts that range from 6 to 10 percent in order to reduce a current purse overpayment of about $1.3 million. Overpayment occurs when more purse money is paid out than is generated from the betting handle. By state law, 9 percent of the handle is allocated to purses.

But horsemen think that too much of that money is used inappropriately. An example is the International Turf Festival, where about $1.1 million in purses will be paid in rich stakes, most of it traditionally paid to out-of-state horsemen who win the races.

The MTHA board set up a new Purse and Contract Committee to handle the negotiations with management. The committee includes six MTHA board members -- Robb, Katy Voss, Linda Gaudet, Donald Barr, Jack Mobberley and Paul Seefeldt -- and six additional members, two from each track or training center.

The committee plans to hold its first meeting after the races at Laurel on Monday.

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